It was our first trip to California. My best friend was getting married in a couple of days and Michael and I took a day trip down the coast. For some reason I’d added horseback riding to my revolving list of things to tackle in the near future, in addition to write a (good) novel and run the NYC marathon. Large animals intimidate me even now and to actually mount one seemed crazy.
The two riders ahead of me in the line were a 6-year-old girl, who rode like a professional 5 times her age, and her mother; a woman whose right leg had been amputated above the knee. When, I had no idea. But she moved with great ease and comfort in her own body. Which was a whole lot more than I could say for myself that day.
Molera Horseback Tours is located in Big Sur. I felt at once excited and comfortable and out of place.
When I get extremely nervous – and not the kind of nervous conjured up by going to the dentist for your annual cleaning – I tend to get hostile. Whomever is in my path, well, I feel sorry for. Be tough or step aside. That’s the best advice I can give. (My husband and I were only dating at the time and I guess I wasn’t that horrible because a few months later he asked me to marry him.) I was tense and rude and I snapped at just about any question he asked me. My only excuse was that there was a real possibility I might be thrown from the horse to my very young death.
The first thing I realized about riding a horse is how quickly you get to know each other. Within minutes I knew that he was a nice horse. Sundance was his name. But he wasn’t going to take any crap from me if I dared to dish any out. He instantly knew that I was scared shitless. Clearly, he had the upper hoof.
“Just steer him back over here!” the tour guide shouted to me as Sundance veered off the line of riders on our tour. “He thinks he’s heading back to the stables. Turn him this way,” she motioned toward herself.
“I don’t want to hurt him!” I called back.
“Honey, he out-weighs you by over a 1000 pounds. Pull hard!”
The second and probably most important thing I realized was that there was literally nothing to hold onto. I’m not sure what I was expecting. Some kind of handle bar like on an amusement park ride? You mean I’m supposed to hold onto this beast with only my thighs. I’m a runner, not a thigh master enthusiast.
The guide trotted off the line when she realized I was not going to be successful in commandeering my horse. She took hold of Sundance and brought us back to the group.
Sundance, you rebel bastard.
“Everybody ready to trot a bit?” the guide called out.
“Finally we’re moving. Ya! Ya!” Michael shouted from behind me. His horse was Eeyore’s long lost cousin, for sure. A resident of an assisted living community could’ve outrun this animal.
I didn’t trot. I was holding up the line of excited horses that were playing monkey-see-monkey-do.
“Trot, baby,” Michael said.
“No! No way! I’m going to fall off this fucking horse if I trot!”
That’s when I focused on the 6-year-old and her mother. I don’t know how long they’d been riding but they made it look so easy. The little girl made casual conversation with our guide and her mother seemed so balanced, in harmony with the incredible nature that surrounded us. With use of only one of her legs, it amazed me that she was able to do what I had trouble doing without a physical impairment. (Mental impairment? Now, that’s up for discussion.)
Eventually I eased up. I breathed a little deeper and if it sounds like I had a moment, I did. Living on Long Island, there hadn’t been
many any opportunities to be immersed in mountain country. The scenery looked as though it was painted on.
I did worry a few times that a mountain line was going to jump out at me. Not onto my husband. Not onto anyone else in the group.
Just onto me.
I didn’t sustain injury that day and – BONUS – I even learned that fear is something you can overcome. I also learned that it’s essential to duck under tree limbs because your horse doesn’t give a crap if you smash your head while you’re riding.
We’re still visiting California every chance we get.